Then, WO-1 Joe Bilitzke Wolf Pack 34, 01-68 -- 02-69.  Now retired CWO-4 with 40 years
service that started in Vietnam, included Desert Storm and service in support of the Iraq war.  Joe retired on May 16 2006 and now resides in California with his wife Darlene.

Joe in Desert Storm

The Marlin Independent Journal reported Joe's retirement as follows:

Marin warrior calls it quits
Joe Wolfcale
San Anselmo soldier Joe Bilitzke will get new orders Tuesday. His new commanding officer, wife Darlene, will probably march him down to the nearest men's clothier and help him pick out a new wardrobe.

The Vietnam-era helicopter pilot and tactical aviation instructor hasn't known much other than a military uniform, having served in the U.S. Army for more than four decades - a highly unusual feat, according to military officials.

"It's extremely rare to have someone stay in for 40 years," said Lt. Col. Brad Upton, chief of operations for the Army's 91st Division at Camp Parks in Dublin. "At any point, you could get shipped somewhere to fight. You're always rolling the dice. He's faced it year after year after year."

Bilitzke, who will retire as a level 4 chief warrant officer, served active duty in Viet-

nam and then was mobilized twice as a reservist, first in Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia, south of the Iraqi border, and more recently as an intelligence officer with the Army's 91st Division.

"What is he going to wear now?" his wife, Darlene Darata, asked. "He still has every single uniform he's worn, totally pressed

and in perfect condition. His closet is filled with fatigues and every drawer has the same brown military shirts and socks. I don't know if he has any other clothes. He'll probably just wear shorts and a T-shirt for now."

Bilitzke said, "I never really thought about it, but I've been playing soldier since I was a kid. It just seemed like the thing to do. It's just something I've always done."

On Tuesday, Bilitzke will celebrate his 62nd birthday, but the day will also mark the end of his highly decorated military service; he has reached his mandatory retirement date and is moving on to a new chapter of his life.

"I'm really looking forward to some travel," said Bilitzke, who has more than two dozen medals of commendation, including the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Award, the Bronze Star with Valor, the Air Medal with Valor and the Purple Heart.

On April 7, Maj. Gen. Bruce E. Zukauskas, commanding general of the 91st Division at Camp Parks, presented Bilitzke with the Legion of Merit medal for his years of service.

Bilitzke's earliest recollections put him in a military uniform, as an old black-and-white photograph

depicts him at age 3. As a boy, he spent his summers at Mullett Lake in northern Michigan.

The son of a World War II Air Force pilot, Bilitzke grew up in Okemos, Mich., always dreaming of being a pilot.

When he was 14, he joined the Civilian Air Patrol. He was a member of the ROTC program at Michigan State University. He joined the military in 1966, enrolling at the Army Aviation School at Fort Rucker, Ala. After graduating in 1968, he arrived in Vietnam, two weeks before the Tet Offensive.

Bilitzke was assigned to the 281st Assault Helicopter Company as a counterintelligence helicopter pilot. He flew more than 1,300 combat hours and survived being shot down three times. The unit's slogan was "Death on Call."

As a member of the Army's special operations helicopter unit, the forerunner of today's Delta Force, Bilitzke's missions involved inserting special operations teams behind enemy lines and were done hastily and conducted under enemy fire most of the time.

During one of those extractions, Bilitzke's helicopter crash-landed after it was shot down by AK-47 gunfire. One team member was killed in the aircraft and another was shot off a rope ladder. For his bravery, Bilitzke was awarded the Purple Heart.

"The recovery team stopped counting at 67 holes in the helicopter," Bilitzke said. "Our job was to keep them alive. We put them in a hole and we pulled them out of the hole. You didn't think about the danger. You just did what you were trained to do and fly as you were trained to fly."

Later, Bilitzke transitioned to another helicopter and became senior fire team leader. He left Vietnam in April 1969. After the conflict, Bilitzke was a helicopter gunship tactical instructor at Fort Rucker.

Bilitzke transferred to the Army reserves in 1974. During Desert Storm, Bilitzke flew medical evacuation missions. His last duties were with the Army's 91st Division headquarters at Camp Parks.

His commanding officer in Vietnam was Maj. Jack Mayhew, now retired and living in Maryland. Bilitzke and Mayhew have maintained their friendship over the years.

"He had the most dangerous job in the outfit," said Mayhew, now 73. "The problem wasn't getting the troops on the ground. It was if they got trapped or compromised. If it went bad at that point, it went bad quickly. Joe was one of those guys you could count on day in and day out, no matter what he had going on.

"He was the most professional soldier that I ever served with, a top-notch pilot, who just did his job extremely well. He demanded a high degree of respect from everyone. He was always ready to go."

Bilitzke first met Darlene Darata in Vienna, Austria, in 1979. They dated off and on for a number of years and were married Feb. 29, 2000, at the Ventana resort in Big Sur on the Monterey Peninsula.

"It was pretty amazing how we found each other again," said Darata, who owns a design and decorating business in Sausalito. "We both realized we were heading in the same direction finally."

During his reservist years, Bilitzke co-owned and eventually took over an industrial theater production company based in San Francisco. When he got his last assignment, Bilitzke decided to sell the business to the employees because he couldn't run the business at the same time.

After getting married, Bilitzke took up residence with Darata in her spacious San Anselmo home. Together, they look after a Labrador, Sam.

Bilitzke plans on keeping occupied by continuing his 20-year association with the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, for which he formerly served as a board member and president. He is in charge of planning the group's annual convention.

For the past 312 years, Bilitzke has spent his time in a hotel room in Dublin.

"The military was really his commitment, that's what he does," Darata said. "We really haven't lived together yet. I think we're both ready for the next part of our lives, whatever that might hold. We really don't dwell much on the past. We're planning our life together, looking forward."